TITANS TOGETHER Part Deux: Mike McKone exclusively talks 'Teen Titans'

In part one of CBR News' extensive and exclusive preview of "Teen Titans," coming in July from DC Comics, writer Geoff Johns spoke about his plans for the series and introduced readers to the core concepts permeating this high-profile re-launch. Now it's time for former "Exiles" penciller Mike McKone to spill the beans on his first big DC gig and what exactly he plans to bring to one of the most anticipated comics of 2003.

"The plan is to entertain as many people as possible, It's that simple," McKone told CBR News. "I'm not sure if I'm bringing anything to the table that another penciller couldn't bring. Everyone contributes something unique to this project and I'm really enjoying the collaborative framework we have established. Geoff, Eddie and I talk openly and often about every feature of the book, we discuss the scripts before I begin drawing and everyone sees the pencils before they are inked so any changes or modifications are only an e-mail away. I would hope that I'm contributing to the project exactly what Geoff and Eddie [Berganza, editor] and Tom and Marlo and Jeromy [Cox, colorist] are contributing, a willingness to work hard and not be so precious as to refuse an idea or suggestion if that works better for the book."

While some may choose to see McKone as "simply" a superhero artist or a one-trick pony because his most famous work to date is the traditional superhero Marvel Comics series "Exiles," the thirty four year old artist, who's been drawing comics for fifteen years, brushes aside criticisms from those who would dismiss his art because it's been limited to one genre thus far. "If I prove people right or wrong, it's essentially incidental to me doing my job," states McKone. "Often the most challenging scenes in a super-hero comic are those which take place in the so called real world and I would hope to pay just as much attention to those parts of the story as I do to the more fantastical elements. I think it is important that the reader believes in the authenticity of the world in which the characters inhabit whether it is a fictional or real and to that end, in the case of 'Teen Titans' I have tried to ensure that San Francisco in particular is referenced thoroughly to give me the best possible chance to capture the look and feel of the city."

McKone's positive attitude and good perspective also translate into a very good sense of humor, which is demonstrated when he's asked how he got attached to "Teen Titans," a project that was no doubt desired by many artists.

"Eddie Berganza asked if I'd be interested in drawing the 'Teen Titans.' I asked him if he didn't have a Superman project for me to work on instead. He told me Geoff was writing it. I said 'Cool, 'Teen Titans''!"

Humor aside, like so many other professionals in the comic business today, Mike McKone was a fan of the Marv Wolfman and George Perez "Teen Titans" series when he was younger, something that definitely made this series more attractive to him. "Absolutely. It was the first DC book I read on a regular basis and having just re-read the majority of the run, it held up amazingly well. The characters were well developed with real emotional weight, the stories were focused and tight, and Mr Perez was making quantum leaps in his ability to convey this issue by issue."

It's been discussed in the previous Geoff Johns interview and it'll no doubt be discussed further, but the costume changes in "Teen Titans" have caused a lot of controversy among fans, even when the changes have been minor. But when the changes have indicated radical character progression, such as with Superboy or Impulse, readers have been quite vocal… but McKone doesn't mind. "Most of the costumes have been in a constant state of flux throughout the lifespan of the characters. Cyborg, Starfire and Raven have been modified slightly, while Wondergirl, Beast Boy, Superboy have undergone a more radical re-interpretation. All of the designs are an amalgam of ideas from Geoff, Eddie and myself and are an attempt to reflect the characters unique and individual personalities. I drew em' so I had quite a bit of input. My favorite is Beast Boy because red and green should really never have been seen.

"The characters themselves are the main inspiration. I just doodled until I came up with something that felt right for them. Often this is something that is quite difficult to articulate, it just works or it doesn't. We played around with a lot of looks for Superboy but they all seemed like variations of past costumes and didn't really represent the slightly more experienced and self-aware character that will emerge from the first story arc. Geoff suggested a more utilitarian approach to the design and it worked. Superboy wears a t-shirt because I suspect he thinks it's a little cooler than spandex, and Superboy really needs to think of himself as cool.

"Cyborg is at least half machine and must update frequently out of necessity, otherwise he's the super-hero version of Pac-Man in the Halo universe.

Wonder Girl feels the weight of her predecessor's achievements very heavily and simply reflected this by assuming a more contemporary version of Donna Troy's costume."

"Impulse has the best reason of all to change but I can't go there."

Controversy aside, McKone's art is part of a movement back towards more realistic superhero art as opposed to the "cartoony" and seemingly "manga inspired" art that's been pervasive in the genre of late. While he'd name John Byrne as one of his main influences ("He was and is the most complete comic book penciller," contends McKone), there's one thing for sure- life is an inspiration that can't be beat. "I'm not sure if there is anything in particular that has influenced the way I draw other than trying to look at the actual world with actual people rather than let my main point of reference be other comic book pencillers. I've never consciously tried to cultivate a particular style or look to my work although from time to time certain nuances creep into the artwork subconsciously. I didn't understand spherical perspective until I saw Eric Shanower do it. This seems to me to be basic evolution at work, the output stage of one generation is the input stage of the next. It's fine to learn from the work of people who really know their stuff but I wouldn't want the presence of the people whose work I admire to be felt too heavily in my own work."

His new work on "Teen Titans" has already surprised many who've seen the recent preview in "Wizard" and McKone says a hearty, "Thank You" to all the fans who've praised the evolution of his linework. "The most important new skill I've learned is how not to send a 600dpi image file to DC and have it crash their network," laughs the artist.

While McKone does have a strong fanbase, it's Geoff Johns that's the big name on this series and while some creators might worry about being overshadowed, McKone looks at it as a chance to benefit… using the McKone laws of synergy that is. "I believe the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that heat can only pass from a warmer to a cooler object. So y'know, working with a megastar can't hurt. [smiles] The quality of Geoff's work is what's important and I can say unequivocally that this is the best work I've ever read of his. The last page of the first issue will compel you to pick up the next issue and the last page of the second issue will compel you to pick up everything he writes.

"Far and away the most enjoyable aspect of this book is the excellence of Geoff's writing. It's a lot easier to draw well if the story is worth the time and effort involved and I think it's demonstrable that what I would consider my best efforts have without exception been a direct response to the quality of the writers work. Probably the most difficult part of this book, or any book is achieving the quality of work you expect of yourself."

These days it has become commonplace for artists to be late on a series and for some series to be delayed or even have issues re-solicited with new artists because of another artist not being able to complete an issue. While McKone isn't a consistently late artist by any means, he knows that he just can't do twelve issues a year and admits that fans won't see his work in every arc. "I think it is inevitable I will need a penciller to spot me once in a while. I aim to draw at least ten issues a year, same as Exiles and hopefully thestory-arcs can be arranged to accommodate this. There is a distinction to be made between 'late pencillers' and pencilers who simply don't draw every single issue. If every one knows the situation going in there shouldn't be a problem, but failing to deliver what you've promised is a bad idea and eventually you'll reap what you sow."

Respectfully, Teen Titans fans are known as a demanding and vocal group, second only to perhaps Legion and X-Men fans, and that can be quite daunting for creators tackling any aspect of the Titanverse. While writer Geoff Johns deals with a huge chunk of the criticism as scriptwriter for "Teen Titans," McKone takes his fair share of the heat from fans who feel "Young Justice" was unfairly cancelled to make way for this new series and for those who want to dismiss "Titans" before it's even released. But with his trademark wit and positive outlook, McKone grins and says it's not a problem. "I think if you worry how people will react to your work then you are truly and hopelessly lost. An honest clear-eyed view of your own work is essential but the only person who can really provide that is you. The readers opinion is of course important and they have every right to expect their investment of time and money rewarded with a book they can enjoy. However, by the time they see the first issue I will have spent seven months working on the book and no matter how much they want it to work, I want it more. As for 'Young Justice,' I've also been on a book that's been cancelled and it's a horrible feeling but eventually you have to realize that these are business decisions and have nothing at all to do with the respective talents involved. Peter David and Todd Nauck did an absolutely cracking job on that book and the title survived a hostile sales environment for fifty-odd issues because of them, so it is wholly unfair to let the vagaries of the marketplace cloud that fact."

When asked if he has any idea how long he'd be staying on "Teen Titans" and if he'd ever be interested in returning to "Exiles" at Marvel, McKone says both are questions he can't answer. "It's too early to tell how long I'll stick around, for as long as I'm enjoying it and as long as Geoff and Eddie want me around. Talking about Marvel while I'm exclusive with DC is like talking about who I'd like to date if I break up with my girlfriend. Wait... I know that one, it would be Kylie Minogue. Bad example."

And then when McKone is asked if he can reveal more than Johns did about some future events in "Teen Titans," McKone put on some shades and does his best "Ah-Nuld" voice, saying, "He'll be back!" and says that Titans fans will know what he means.

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